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Leading the charge

By Mark Green

Belief that an executive succeeds by lifting up those around them has worked for Debbie Reynolds. It has led the veteran of the Forcht Group to the presidency of the Kentucky financial services, insurance, health care, media and real estate conglomerate.

Colleagues cite an ability to efficiently assess operations, identify top performers and set a clear course as the reason she now oversees 2,100 employees at 95 businesses with revenues of $200 million.

“Her people, they genuinely like her,” said Terry Forcht, chairman/CEO of the Forcht Group. “They follow her, and they do what needs to be done for her.
“I haven’t seen anybody as good at organizing our companies as she is, both with the organizational charts and working with individuals. She has an exceptional ability to drill into an organization and find who is doing what and why, and how that can be improved.”

Reynolds just calls it “surrounding myself with the very best people I can find and letting them use their God-given skills.”

Reynolds “has quite a strength of character,” according to Forcht. “She can go after people when she needs to. She just has a remarkable – I call it a talent.
Few people really have that organizational ability at a higher level. Ask her where her cell phone is, she can’t tell you, but she can sure put an organization together.”

The Hindman, Ky., native has been with Forcht Group of Kentucky in various capacities since 1976, rising to chief operating officer in 2002. She was named president in mid-March. Reynolds is responsible for leading the strategic direction, management and operation of the Forcht Group family of companies.

Front and center, she said, is expanding Kentucky National Insurance operations into Tennessee. And despite difficult economic conditions – Forcht officials expect little improvement for perhaps two years – Forcht hopes to grow its banking group, which last year topped $1 billion in assets, Reynolds said. The company will also “continue to look for new opportunities in health care.”

Banking and health care are Forcht Group’s two primary businesses.

Reynolds joined Forcht in 1976 as director of nursing for Hazard Nursing Home after earning a nursing degree at Eastern Kentucky University. In 1982, she became head of the Hazard facility and in 1997 was chosen state Administrator of the Year by the Kentucky Association of Health Care Facilities. In 1998, she moved up to president of Management Advisors, which oversees Forcht Group’s nine nursing homes, three of which have won KAHCF’s Facility of the Year Award.

Reynolds joined Forcht Group’s board in 1998, and was instrumental in consolidating the banking group’s 10 entities under the Forcht Bank flag, forming group financial services, retail and insurance companies, and creating then expanding the Lexington corporate office. Various operations have all been rebranding under the Forcht name and now maintain headquarters in Corbin and Lexington.

“It was my vision to bring the company to Lexington” and enter the banking market there, said Reynolds when asked about her biggest accomplishments. “It really brought about a lot of growth for us. There were a lot of naysayers saying you can’t have a bank to Lexington; there’re too many banks. But we’ve been successful, and it’s helped the whole company, too, to develop growth.”

Though most executives were men when Reynolds began her career, she said her gender didn’t seem to make a difference, adding that spending her early years in health care where there were more women probably helped.

Reynolds encourages more women to enter commerce. Balancing work and family are a challenge, the married mother of two admits.

“It seems if you give everything you need to the family that something slides at work and vice versa, but it’s doable,” Reynolds said. “And children can survive that very well; certainly mine have.”

Her son Gregory is chief resident at the UK?Medical Center this year. Another son, Kevin, is a musician. Her husband, Greg Reynolds, is U.S. Social Security district manager for Pikeville and Prestonsburg.